sat 13/08/2022

Book extract: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol | reviews, news & interviews

Book extract: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Book extract: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Extract III of III - She Rides along the Coast toward a Historic

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol © Fitzcarraldo Editions

She has more armed guards than she has luggage. She has a sense of purpose even Magsalin admires. She rides along the coast toward a historic place and, by simply stepping on its soil, she will accomplish her duty. An homage to the dead, but not only for her benefit. Films, after all, have a sociality not even the most narcissistic can subvert. They require the possibility of observers. Thus consumers are significant to her story.

For an inland, riverine town, this coastal road is invigorating. So much of this journey seems to be a start. Holiday goers pass by in a rented vehicle toward the surfers’ beach, advertised also on a store, then there is a truckload of rice sacks and pigs. A child sucking on a lollipop on the back of her father’s motorcycle waves cheerfully at the tinted Pajero. She has a frilled dress, a book bag, and curly hair. Chiara waves back, but that is so dangerous, to put your kid on a motorbike on the highway without a helmet. The father shouts at the kid to hold tight (Chiara thinks). Chiara holds on to the door handle as the Pajero jolts at the sound of the shots. Two policemen on motorcycles, riding in tandem, rev past them. First it is a goat that appears on the road, then a pig. The Pajero twists and turns out of the way of the corpses. Then it stops.

“What are you doing, Gogoboy? We don’t stop here,” says Chiara.

For a moment, she is afraid.

She will not believe what she will witness.

She hears but does not see the men behind them, also on motorbikes, pulling alongside the Pajero. There is an inconsiderate lapse between vision and hearing that angers Chiara, as if injustice lies in this syncope, or some sound mixer were off duty. She keeps feeling sensory gaps, the tape keeps being advanced to the wrong moments, so that the bad cuts have the effect of miscommunicating the scene’s pathos. The sounds of the motorcycles before them are already erased, unheard, and there is no wailing at the sight of the bodies. Her gaping mouth is silent. It is no pig or goat.

It is the mangled length of a father and child.

The father lies face down on the asphalt road, his slim Suzuki motorbike still upholding a spinning wheel, and his arm thrown out. It had reached out to the child before its fall. The child’s blood darkens the highway. Chiara does not understand why there is so much blood. At the father’s chest, soaking his white T-shirt. On his child’s curly head, oozing onto her frilled dress. Her book bag has the odd shape of Chiara’s old pet Misay, a furry cat, lying flat on its back. It, too, is soaked. The daughter lies next to her father, her face sideways and her hand above her, suspended. Splayed, as on a cross or as if she is about to wave. Her posture is one of motion though she is absolutely still. Her small, pink mouth is open, and Chiara cannot tell if the stain on the tongue is the child’s blood, or is it the color of the lollipop. The lollipop is steeped in blood. The blood keeps seeping away from their bodies, a hyperbolic dark shadow, an excessive notation of their fall that soon will encompass all—palms, jungle, nation, ocean. Gogoboy’s bandaged foot is now stained by the spreading blood. Edward’s combat boots and the butt of his Uzi have a trace of blood, as the two men kibitz by the road with the policemen. It is a contagion that will soon touch the entire road,

the ooze radiating outward beyond the bodies, as of an awkward halo drawn too wide. For a moment it seems to Chiara that an enveloping sea of blood has contaminated even the sunlight’s rays, a dark glistening that overflows her vision. How did Edward and Gogoboy jump out of the Pajero so fast? The spatial and temporal logic is jerky. Then she sees Edward moving onto the side of the road.

What is he doing?

He is vomiting out his guts.

He is always having gastroenteritis.

Only the policemen have squeaky-clean attire, practiced as they are in treading upon blood.

And where did these policemen come from?

Chiara tests her voice, a gargling sound, and she feels stupid in her short shorts.

She gets out of the Pajero.

She is glad that her platform shoes make her taller than everyone else.

She stands outside a pool of blood. It drains crosswise toward the palm trees on the shoulder of the road, toward vomit and grass.

“What is going on?”

“Ma’am,” says Edward, with his forlorn air, his face now a sickly shade of mourning, “police, o. They will usually check your bag.”


“They are usually here to check your bag.”

“What are you talking about?

“Sorry, ma’am, it is the police,” says Private First Class Gogoboy, approaching them. “They say they want to check your bag.”

“Ma’am, good afternoon,” says a stocky policeman, practically a midget, his brow reaching her non-cleavage. Like Gogoboy, he has a bandaged limb—his hand. He holds up the shredded bandage of his arm as if to say, sorry, I cannot do the honors of shaking your hand, I am a diabetic, I have a Charcot hand, pardon me, then he continues, “It is reported by the man at the resort about your bag.”

“What man? What is reported?”

“I told him, ma’am,” says Edward mournfully, “you are photographer usually come to take pictures of the statues of the historical massacre in Balangiga. He is not listening.”

“The security at the resort. He reported about your bag.”

“Mister policeman, sir,” says Chiara, “your job is to deal with—with this scene. Oh my God, this blood! Why is there so much blood?”

She backs away in her platform sandals. But it is too late. Her sandals are touched with the blood pooling on the bodies, on the leaves, on the vehicles, on the trees, on the sun.

The blood of the child in a frilled dress.

The other policeman, in aviator glasses that obscure his eyes and both of his cheeks, so that he looks like a walking Ray-Ban without a face, walks over to the Pajero, wading through the blood.

He is just full of it.

“What are you doing?”

He pulls out her duffel bag from the back of the Pajero.

“What are you doing? Gogoboy, take my bag away from him.”

“Ma’am, they are the police.”

“But aren’t you the army?”

“But we are off duty.”

“What the hell? What’s the use of having armed guards if you just let bandits open up my bags with impunity? Edward, this is the time to use your stupid Uzi.”

But no one follows the director’s orders.

“Ma’am, what is this?”

The faceless policeman with the aviator glasses has ripped open the bag.

Triumphantly, he shows them all a square pale blue box.

He takes it out of the green and purple duffel and hands it to his crippled partner, who gently shakes the box.

Everyone stares at the square box, decorated with pale blue whorls, that the stocky one handles with his free, unbandaged hand.

“What is that?” says Chiara. “Who put that in my bag?”

The policeman lifts the cover off the pale blue box, and he extracts a plastic bag full of gray dust, the plastic bag limp in his wounded hand.

“Aha,” says the effaced policeman, his sunglasses in victory slipping almost to his chin, “just as it is reported. Shabu!”


“Drugs, ma’am,” mourns Edward, shaking his head. “You have drugs in your bag.”

“See,” says the policeman with the bandaged hand, “it is even marked on the box: S.A.V. Must be a new chemical, they are now making all new kinds of shabu.”

“What the hell is shabu?”

“What is it called in America?” Private First Class Gogoboy asks the policemen. “Fentanyl?”

“No. Meth,” says the bandaged policeman, the one who seems to be in charge, “meth crystal. Also known as cracks.”

Chiara laughs. “Are you out of your mind? That is not crack. That is the wrong texture. Meth is fine and bright, like powder. That is gray and pebbly, like coral beach sand!”

Now everyone is staring at Chiara.

“I am sorry, ma’am, you are under arrest,” says the stocky one with the bandaged arm, “for transporting shabu to Samar.”

“So you will arrest me for trumped-up drug possession, you will put me in jail instead of investigating which of your motorbike-riding colleagues killed this child right in front of our eyes? My God! Someone killed a child. We saw that shooter riding in tandem behind the driver on the motorbike, just like yours! I bet he was one of you. So you will hide your colleagues’ crime by arresting a foreigner, a bystander? You’re criminals. You’re bandits.”

“No one is seeing a motorcycle riding in tandem. Did you boys see a riding in tandem?”

And the faceless man in aviator glasses turns to Edward and Private First Class Gogoboy.

“The father is a drug addict, that is usually for sure,” grieves Edward. “That is usually the reason why they die.”

“Usually?” says Chiara. “Will you stop saying usually, Edward? You are driving me nuts! You know very well that is not the reason why people die. These policemen are usually the reason for these deaths!”

“Now it is you who are saying usually, ma’am,” mourns Edward.

“But you have shabu in your bag, ma’am!” the stocky policeman declares. He points to the bag in his open, unhurt palm. He puts it back in the box and shakes the box before Chiara. “That is right in front of the eyes!”

“That is not shabu, you idiots!”

And now they all turn to see who has come upon them.

“Cut! Cut! Cut!”

It is Magsalin in a pedicab bearing a duffel bag and her rage. She leaps out, hands Chiara the bag she carries, and snatches the pale blue box from the policeman’s arms.

Magsalin cradles the box against her body.

Magsalin, holding the box and staring straight out at the father and child, has begun to weep.

She cannot help it.

She is wailing.

It is a monsoon wind that will never stop.

It is a perplexingly rational sight to see the image of a woman bending in sorrow before the scene of carnage on the road, silhouetted against the morning light, swaying and wailing before the bystanders, the soldiers and goons and the foreigner on the periphery—though in truth she is wailing for a box instead of for the dead that lie before her eyes.

No one moves, frozen in this game of Statue Dance, listening to Magsalin.

“Ah,” says Chiara, “just as I thought. I knew it. I’ve been trying to piece it all together. Those are his remains. You have been carrying them around with you from Tacloban to Manila to New York and back. You carried it with you in Cubao. You carried it with you on the ferry to Allen. It has been your mission on the road to Samar. You are carrying your husband’s body, whom you hope to bury with your mother across the strait, in Tacloban.”

Chiara mentally notes problems of film, even of costume design: how did a pedicab get here so quickly? Why is she, Chiara, wearing short shorts? Who gave her platform shoes? Why will justice never happen? Who in their right mind would mistake cremains for crack? And will Magsalin ever just mourn, without plots and stories and gestures that distance sorrow?

“Yes,” Magsalin says. “This is my husband’s body. I left the country when he died.”

“It was too painful to remember.”


“You could not return home even as your mother lay dying.”


“So you began writing a mystery story instead, parceling out your pain into your characters’ lives. Is his name Stéphane, by any chance?”

“No. His name is Stig. Though it’s true—people always ended up calling him Steve. Even my mom. His name was Stig Alyosha Virkelig. He was a writer. He was in the middle of writing a novel when he died. It is unfinished.”

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